Milos Mitic, 12, is a karate champion in his native Surdulica, Serbia, where martial arts and football (soccer) are the most popular youth sports. Typically, only the members of Tenden (his karate club) get to see him in action. But when "What's Your Sport?", a program created by Coca-Cola, arrived in his town, Mitic was able to display his skills in front of thousands.

Encouraging Kids to Get Moving

“I am happy that this event was organized because my friends from school could see what kind of sport I train for and maybe join me or other friends who are into other sports,” says Mitic.

Coca-Cola Hellenic’s office in Serbia started "What's Your Sport?” to encourage young people to be more active. The traveling event visits towns across Serbia and provides local sports clubs a platform to present activities to local communities, emphasizing the importance of athletics and healthy foods.

Serbian Youth

 "What's Your Sport?” is a traveling event that visits towns across Serbia and encourages young people to be more active.

“What’s Your Sport?” has the support of the Serbian Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Sports Federation of Serbia, and the Institute for Sports and Sports Medicine of the Republic of Serbia. In Mitic's hometown, which has a population of about 20,000, more than 2,000 young people took part in the recent "What's Your Sport?" event. In addition to the 12 sport clubs from Surdulica that presented activities, Coca-Cola sponsored a Football Cup for the community.

“We are pleased to say that young people in Surdulica had a chance, thanks to Coca-Cola, to try out different sports and to show their talent for football and other activities," says Biljana Nikolic, director of the Touristic Organization of Surdulica. "The Coca-Cola Company is the biggest investor in our municipality."

The Goal: Getting Children Off the Couch and Onto the Playing Field

The “What's Your Sport?” program started in 2009 and was initiated by a study that revealed that only 15 percent of Serbian elementary and high school children were playing sports regularly. 

“Our team tests all of the children who attend the event in order to check their physical fitness," says Aco Gajevic, assistant director of the Institute for Sports and Sports Medicine of the Republic of Serbia. "Once we do this, we direct them toward certain diets and certain physical activities."

Aleksandar Micic, an overweight 13-year-old from the city of Stara Pazova, prefers to play games on-screen rather than on a field.

"I like some sports, like martial arts such as judo and karate, and I like tennis, but I prefer reading books or playing games on my computer," he says. "A couple of years ago, I started training karate, but I stopped after a few months."

He attended the Coca-Cola Cup in May 2012 when it came to his hometown. Micic is not involved in sports, but he has gone to "What's Your Sport?" events with his friends "to support them and hang out with them," he says. 

At the events, Micic says, he was given advice from health professionals on ways to control his weight and live a more active lifestyle.

This type of outreach is one of the principal goals of the program, Gajevic says. “This project was created with the aim of motivating citizens, primarily youth, to engage more actively in recreational sports activities," he says. "Training or recreational participation in sports is a prerequisite to a healthy and active way of life.” 

Serbian Youth Get on the Playing Field

At the events, health professionals give kids advice on ways to control weight and live a more active lifestyle.

Dusan Antonijevic, a Serbian Coke representative, says promoting healthy and active lifestyles are longstanding company priorities. "We are extremely pleased that our partners recognized the importance of athletic activities, team spirit, fair play and healthy lifestyle habits," he says. "Our wish is to encourage as many children as possible to be active in sports, because sports and physical activities are necessary for healthy growth and development.”     

Over the next three years, the Coca-Cola Foundation and the Serbian Institute for Sports and Sports Medicine will work on a parallel project to monitor the fitness and health in approximately 12,000 children.

“Malnutrition was, until a few decades ago, the main problem in childhood, but today the main problem is obesity," says Dr. Maja Nikolic, an expert in metabolic disorders at the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, in the city of Nis. The rise in obesity among the young is not a phenomenon unique to Serbia — it is a global issue. But the country, by partnering with Coca-Cola to create a range of programs to encourage greater involvement in sports, provides a possible model for stemming the trend.

According to data from the Serbian Ministry of Health, 18 percent of Serbian youth are moderately obese or obese, and one third of Serbian children spend an average of three hours in front of the computer each day. Only 25 percent of them play sports.

Gajevic notes, "Doctors should bear much more responsibility against this rising trend. They should encourage people to have active lifestyles and pay greater attention to their diets. At the same time, schools must work more on encouraging athletic activities for children and serving healthy foods without too much fat or too many carbohydrates. If families, schools and doctors join forces, then obesity can be defeated."

“The high prevalence of obesity is a significant public health problem among Serbian adults," says Dr. Nikolic. "Efforts are needed to effectively promote daily physical activity and healthy eating through progressive modifications in lifestyle and the creation of supportive environments.”